Portugal’s historical heart
Guimarães, a jewel of Portuguese cultural heritage, lies just a stone’s throw from Porto in northwest Portugal. This charming medieval city is considered the country’s birthplace because it is where the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, was born. And it is in its historic centre, a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site with captivating monuments, museums and colourful azulejos tiles, that visitors’ best memories are born.
Portugal was born here
The history of Guimarães has been intertwined with that of Portugal for more than eight centuries. This rich city, located in the Braga district in northern Portugal, is considered to be the birthplace of the nation because it is where Afonso Henriques was born. Nicknamed the “Conqueror” or “Founder”, he became the first king of Portugal after defeating the Moors at the Battle of Ourique in 1139. However, it wasn’t until 1143 that the King of León and Castile recognised the independence of Spain’s neighbouring country in the Treaty of Zamora.
Guimarães was thus the scene of significant political and military events that led to the foundation of Portugal. Traces of the city’s past can still be seen today. In white lettering on a remnant of the old wall at the entrance to the historic centre is a phrase that every Portuguese person knows by heart: “Aqui nasceu Portugal” (Portugal was born here).
The historic centre
The medieval town centre of Guimarães has many extremely well-preserved monuments, which is why UNESCO added it to the World Heritage List in 2001. Its most iconic building is undoubtedly the fortified castle built in the 10th century under the orders of Countess Mumadona Dias. Perched on Monte Latito, known as the sacred hill, the Castle of Guimarães was where inhabitants came to take refuge during the endless incursions of Viking hordes from northern Europe and the Moors from the south. Not far from the castle is a beautiful example of Romanesque architecture: the small Church of São Miguel, where the first king of Portugal was baptised.
From the Castle of Guimarães, you can reach the lower part of the city and its convent via rua de Santa Maria, which connects the two centres. This paved street on the Way of St. James is the oldest in Guimarães and takes you past the ornate stone town hall. Opposite, a traditional azulejos shop sells the famous decorated earthenware tiles – the perfect souvenir of your time in Guimarães!
Must-see sites in Guimarães
Guimarães has other historic gems. Located a stone’s throw from the castle, the Palace of the Dukes of Braganza invites visitors to travel back in time to 15th-century Portugal. With Gothic architecture blended with French influences, the palace is unique! It was listed as a national monument in 1910 and restored to its former glory over the following decades. Today, this sumptuous building, with no fewer than 39 tall brick chimneys, is one of the official residences of the President of Portugal.
Another iconic location in Guimarães is Praça de São Tiago in the old town. Surrounded by stone houses with wooden balconies, this cobbled square is the perfect place to get a taste of the Portuguese good life. Take a seat on one of the many terraces to enjoy a glass of port with tapas, including salt cod fritters, marinated octopus salad and pão com chouriço (Portuguese chorizo buns). The selection is fit for a king!
Bird’s eye view
Finally, from Monte da Penha, enjoy an impressive panoramic view of the whole city. Take the cable car from Guimarães to reach the mountain top. From up high, the medieval city looks like a precious stone with facets carved by time, set in a natural environment. In addition to the view, the mountain offers incredible nature at the Penha Forest Park, which is home to a beautiful religious building. The sanctuary of Penha includes an Art Deco church from the 1930s made from local granite. Like the other historical monuments of Guimarães, its beauty is eternal.
Photos credits : © Istock
PONANT takes you there
Explore the wonders of the Atlantic Coast